You may not be aware of this but January 31st is the most popular time for people to hand in their notice.

Employees who are leaving often are treated as if they don’t really matter now.

But how you as a manager respond to and treat your employees when they resign – and work their notice – is as important as when they start employment with you!

So what? If they are leaving why should they matter?

Because treating employees well reflects well on the company by showing their attitude to their people. Other employees will watch this and observe how their colleagues are treated. This will reinforce existing negative opinions about how the company and/or manager regards their people.

Essentially how you behave when someone leaves is a benchmark against which others measure how the company treats their people. Similar to when an employee has some health challenges. How you treat them is watched by others and this has a big impact. This builds a picture and creates emotions – either adding to their bank – the bank of loyalty or the bank of fear.

The Bank of Fear

The bank of fear says “my manager/ company doesn’t care about me – look at the way they treated my colleague. I need to look out for myself as they don’t care about me.” It creates zero loyalty and masses of antipathy!

The impact of a fear-based culture is that there is likely to be a number of people who are underperforming. Fear also creates stress, which can lead to mental health and other challenges. These can be created by the culture or made worse because the culture mean they can’t share something that makes them vulnerable.

Leaving jobs is a part of life

After all – however you look at it – leaving one job for another is something that is a part of life.  And people should be able to feel that managers will respond in a human way.  People shouldn’t be left thinking – “But if this is how they react with this – how will they react if I tell them I suffer from depression?”

A fear-based culture is likely to have a higher staff turnover – with the good people going elsewhere because they can.

It may leave you with those who can’t leave or who can’t be bothered to leave but are really just there because they have to be – not because they are bothered about your company!

Throwing knives at employees!

Once someone hands in their notice they don’t suddenly cease to be a human and deserve to be treated badly. A common one – particularly from female managers – is to stop speaking to their employee/colleague, creating a really bad atmosphere and causing some people to leave before actually completing their notice.

Another one is bad-mouthing the person.

The best one has got to be a manager who was so angry about their employee leaving that they threw a knife at him! What a way to encourage colleagues to feel good about that establishment! 

Another one is cutting them out of decision making and communication processes – this isn’t just unkind it is a massive issue for those people who have to work 3-6 month notice periods.

These are all signs of a toxic workplace. A workplace that uses fear to manage and control its people. Or a manager who cannot control their feelings and must lash out. Literally!

What should happen?

Role modelling – a really important aspect of being a manager. Managers need to role model compassion and gratitude. They need to uphold the company values and standards they have espoused to. Also show that they uphold individual morals.

Show pleasure – it might be a challenge but managers need to show pleasure that their employees are continuing their career development.

Think clever – if you treat someone well they leave with great feelings about their time there and they are more likely to come back to that company which would then benefit from their future achievement and contributions.

Say thanks – good managers always ensure they say thanks, ask you where you are going to, ensure you get a card and a gift and that farewells are said by your colleagues.

Acknowledge it is difficult – if this is someone you rely on or work well with it can be a personal blow when someone hands in their notice. It is okay to find it tough and to even be sad. It is often awkward.

Talk to your people about the ways forward – one person leaving can be the catalyst for others to leave – something you want to avoid if possible. Some may leave because it was a tightknit team and they don’t want to be there without that individual. Others may leave because they don’t want to pick up the extra work.

Keep talking to your people about what you are doing to tackle these challenges. Don’t leave a vacuum because often vacuums are filled with doubt and fear.

What not to do…

  • Don’t bad mouth the individual
  • Don’t bad mouth their new employer
  • Don’t threaten them
  • Don’t pretend they don’t exist and never mention their name to their colleagues
  • Do try and find out why they are leaving – but be aware that if fear is an issue you won’t find out the truth!
  • Do think strategically – is there a high turnover in that particular team/role? If so – tackle the underlying problem
  • Do work out the costs of high turnover – this may help your case for tackling this problem
  • Do recognise they might come back in the future – better qualified, more skills and experience – so keep communication open and the relationship going
  • Do remember they may tell others it’s a great place to work. Or based on how you responded to them when they handed in their notice they may bad mouth your company for how you treat employees
  • Do remember that ultimately you may also have the tables turned when at some point in the future you also hand your notice in

Swop the Bank of Fear for the Bank of Loyalty. Your people will see that the company and, you, their manager, treat their people well whether they are working their notice or ill or vulnerable. This will instil a strong sense of loyalty in your people and ultimately improve the success of your company and you as a manager.

Worth bearing in mind as the 31st January approaches don’t you think?

Have you any stories about how managers behaved towards you when you decided to leave?


Adelle Shaw-Flach is a public health nurse and educator who now works with leaders to tackle the cost to business and individuals from stress and mental health issues and make the workplace a happier place.

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